Field workers for Macmahon Holdings Limited, an Australian mining services contractor, are well paid, highly skilled and operate monstrously large and expensive pieces of equipment.
So when a 15-year gold and copper mining contract in Indonesia came through recently, Macmahon executives decided the company needed an employee engagement app to keep workers involved during their downtime in and travel time to often remote overseas locations.
Mining contractor has expensive assets
The idea was that the technology would help foster a corporate culture of belonging that would, in effect, serve as a form of insurance for the investments Macmahon sinks into its geographically dispersed workforce and gear like $8 million earth-moving machines.
"We're a service provider and the value we provide for our clients is really based on what our people can deliver, so we need a highly engaged and motivated workforce," said Christian Sealey, general manager of corporate relations at Macmahon. "Otherwise, you don't get good performance."
Many of the mining company's skilled workers run excavators and $4 million trucks with tires so big a six-foot-tall person wouldn't even reach halfway up one of them. Macmahon typically prepares and runs work sites, but does not do the actual mining.
"It's incredibly expensive equipment," Sealey said. "It requires a great deal of concentration to use this stuff. We need a very engaged, switched-on workforce to do this."
App chosen for employee engagement
Macmahon's choice of employee engagement app vendor was a fast-growing U.K. startup, StaffConnect, which appears to be among the leaders in a newish tech segment -- communications technology for non-desk workers.
StaffConnect also has customers in the U.S. and is making a concerted push into Asia and the Pacific region, home to a large portion of the world's non-desk workers.
As differentiated from work chat or collaboration software from Slack, Fleep, Jostle and others, StaffConnect is mobile-first and focused on Facebook-like intra-company communication intended to foster employee engagement and employee-management dialogue.
App use barred during work
For obvious safety reasons, the employee engagement app is strictly for breaks and the non-working 12-hour shifts that equipment operators and engineers alternate with 12-hour work shifts when on site -- usually far overseas -- at mines.
Christian Sealeygeneral manager of corporate relations, Macmahon Holdings Limited
Macmahon employees typically work three-week tours punctuated by rest visits home. The company currently has or is about to open eight surface and underground mining sites in Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia, all equipped with robust Wi-Fi networks.
"It's very easy for these guys to fly in to their project and get focused on their daily task and then fly in and fly out and not really get a sense of what else is happening across the business," Sealey said. "Like what are all the innovative things we're doing, what's the learning that we’re getting."
The StaffConnect project is only about four weeks in. With an initial target user base of about 1,000 employees, Sealey said about 500 workers are using the employee engagement app.
Communication app for all employees
As the Indonesia contract develops, Macmahon expects to staff up from about 1,500 currently to about 4,000 full-time workers. The StaffConnect app is expected to be used by all of them, including managers on site and at headquarters in Perth, all on their personal mobile devices, Sealey said.
While take-up has been good so far, Sealey said it will be a challenge to get everyone outfitted with the employee engagement app, especially the several thousand new workers expected to join the company soon.
"There's definitely a way to go," he said.
Meanwhile, StaffConnect's credo is that employee engagement is a central challenge for many employers and that most popular engagement strategies are stymied by how to reach non-desk workers who don't even have, perhaps, easy access to corporate email.
Employer control over content
Another benefit, StaffConnect's founder and CEO, Bulent Osman, often points out, is that his company's employee engagement app gives employers control over content and communication channel. The alternative, Osman said, is a proliferation of commercial apps with no corporate connection, such as WhatsApp and WeChat.
"We're all about engagement," Osman said. “It's a big global opportunity that we are tackling."
Among the industries StaffConnect is targeting are transportation (truck, bus and train drivers and operators), airlines (pilots and airline crews), retail (mall workers), hospitality (hotels, restaurants and coffee shops), and construction.
"How does a company reach out and communicate with these people and build loyalty?" Osman said. "That's really the problem we solve."
Long-term app adoption strategy
For Macmahon, the StaffConnect adoption strategy is to start top-down, and settle into bottom-up.
At first, senior management will create content for the app, such as company news and developments and safety advisories.
"Another thing we wanted to do is make sure people are hearing about our news first, from us, not looking at the newspaper ... so that it doesn't come from a competitor," Sealey said.
But Sealey said the company's goal is to have employees generating much of the content. That has already started to happen, he said.
The employee engagement app "has lots of Facebook-like functionality," he said.
"You can like something, you can comment on posts," Sealey said. "You can see conversations starting to happen on the back of other people's posts. We know there's interest in the app and people are using it."
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